FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Adam Gase was the Broncos’ quarterbacks coach when Peyton Manning came to Denver in 2012, and he knew of the legendary quarterback’s maniacal work ethic.
But rather than shy away from the challenge of coaching one of the NFL’s all-time greats, Gase tried to match Manning’s dedication.
He was two years younger than Manning at the time.
“It’s one of those things where we met each other, and it was really who was going to be the first one to break,” Gase, 40, said Monday at his introductory news conference as the Jets’ head coach. “Who was going to outwork who. He appreciates hard work. He appreciates somebody that’s going to go nose-to-nose with him and mentally try to challenge each other.”
It turned out to be a lasting relationship and one that had an impact on the Jets’ coaching search. Manning personally vouched for Gase in a phone call to Jets CEO Christopher Johnson during the nine-day interview process that culminated with Gase’s hiring last Wednesday.
Having Manning in your corner is one of the most valuable NFL resources imaginable, and his belief in Gase is an important reminder of the potential the new coach brings to a uniquely challenging job with the Jets.
This team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and has had three straight losing seasons. But if Gase can bring stability to the quarterback position and infuse the franchise with new vigor, he and Sam Darnold can enjoy many productive years together.
Gase was essentially polishing a diamond when he worked with Manning. Now he gets to start almost from scratch with Darnold, a highly desirable situation that immediately attracted Gase to the Jets. And vice versa.
Gase’s history with Manning may have been the turning point in the coach’s career. He had been hired by Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as the wide receivers coach in 2009 and survived the coaching change to John Fox in 2011. After two seasons as quarterbacks coach, Gase was named offensive coordinator by Fox in 2013 — a decision that had Manning’s blessing. He wound up throwing an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes that season.
“That was something I really enjoyed, that constant challenge, knowing that every day, you better have your plan ready,” Gase said. “As a coordinator, you better have all the answers you need. That’s a challenge. I mean, day-in and day-out, he’s bringing his ‘A’ game. There’s a reason he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
The two would often exchange voice messages about the notes they kept. Manning always took voluminous notes. I remember meeting with him early in his career in Indianapolis, and he shared a look inside the notebooks stacked in his locker. He’d write down the most minute details of a formation, or a play, or anything that had to do with the offense. By the time he finished his career, there literally were hundreds of notebooks chronicling his 17-year career.
Gase called Manning a few days before being fired by the Dolphins to give him a heads-up. “I said, ‘Hey, something might go down on Monday,’ ” Gase said. “He was a little surprised, but he had a couple things we talked about, the way I should go about things. I don’t look at it as a player-coach relationship. I really look at it as a peer-to-peer relationship. He’s been in [football] so long, he knows how to handle things.”
Don’t be surprised to see Manning show up in Florham Park on occasion.
“I always try to get him involved,” Gase said. “He’s not shy about letting guys know if he likes something, dislikes something. He’s very honest. Guys that ask him anything, he’s very honest. He’s [a straight shooter] with guys, and I’ve always appreciated that about him. It’s always good to get another set of eyes on what you’re doing.”
Manning’s support is no guarantee of success for Gase. But earning the endorsement of a future Hall of Fame quarterback who used a coach’s mentality to flourish in the NFL can’t hurt.